ESPN Films

Celebrating its fifth anniversary, 30 for 30 returns tonight

ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series debuted in October 2009. (ESPN)
Most-watched 30 for 30s

According to Nielsen, these five films in the acclaimed ESPN Films documentary series earned the highest television ratings for their respective debut airings.

You Don’t Know Bo
Rating: 2.3
Fab 5
Rating: 2.1
Rating: 1.7
Pony Excess
Rating: 1.6
The U
Rating: 1.6

The ESPN Films 30 for 30 documentary series began as a way to celebrate an anniversary. Now it’s celebrating an anniversary of its own.

First launched in October 2009 to commemorate ESPN’s 30th anniversary, 30 for 30 continues tonight with “Playing for the Mob” (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). The film is the first in the seven-film slate that airs this fall.

Front Row caught up with John Dahl, ESPN Films executive producer, prior to the series’ highly anticipated return.

How has the 30 for 30 series evolved over the last five years?
When we launched the series five years ago, the mission was to create 30 documentaries directed by 30 different filmmakers covering the previous 30 years in sports. Since completing that initial goal in 2010, we’ve continued to produce documentaries with the core principles that were there from the beginning – specific stories featuring a diverse range of filmmakers and storytelling styles that touched on larger themes and transcended sports.

But we broke out of that 30-year period and became willing to use repeat directors from time to time, too. We’ve also launched new series in the ensuing years like 30 for 30 Shorts, Nine for IX and SEC Storied. The 30 for 30 name has essentially gone from a title to a brand.

What sort of impact would you say 30 for 30 has had on the film and television industry?
When we launched ESPN Films in 2008 and then 30 for 30 the following year, it was fair to wonder whether the pace of our world and evolving technology might shorten attention-spans and lessen the appetite for long-form storytelling. But we’ve seen just the opposite. The hunger for stories that cut through and make a difference is arguably stronger than ever. The response from talented filmmakers around the world who want to pursue these kinds of stories is inspiring.

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